The backstory on one of the greatest moves in Orioles history

The Orioles may be coming off a season where their poor pitching contributed heavily to a last-place finish, but over the course of the club’s history, they’ve had plenty of quality pitchers.

This history includes a Hall of Famer in Jim Palmer and four pitchers that have won Cy Young Awards. Palmer won three (1973, ‘75, ‘76) and other winners included Mike Flanagan (1979) Steve Stone (1980) and Mike Cuellar, who shared the 1969 award with Denny McLain.

This history includes four 20-game winners in 1971, something that had not been done since the 1920 Chicago White Sox did it and has not happened since. Palmer was joined by Dave McNally, Pat Dobson and Cuellar.

But with such a history, none of those pitchers ever struck out more batters in one season then lefty Erik Bedard did in 2007 when he fanned 221 over 182 innings and led the majors averaging 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

adam-jones-slides-home.jpgBut in Baltimore, Bedard is more remembered for being traded than any strikeout record. On Feb. 8, 2008, then-general manager Andy MacPhail dealt Bedard to Seattle for a package of five players. Heading to Baltimore were Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, George Sherrill, Tony Butler and Kam Mickolio. The 10-year anniversary of the trade came earlier this month.

With Tillman and Jones still on the team, it is the trade that just keeps giving. It is easily one of the best deals in the history of a franchise that dates to 1954.

While Bedard had some initial success in Seattle, he threw just 164 combined innings his first two seasons there. Shoulder issues derailed a once-promising career. The Orioles - as it turned out - traded Bedard at exactly the right time.

If you want to have any discussion about Bedard and that trade, Jim Howard is a key guy to talk with. He was the Orioles scout that signed Bedard out of Canada and later was part of a group of scouts that recommended to MacPhail that he might bring a big return via trade. Howard is about to enter his 30th year as an O’s scout was recently profiled in this blog.

MacPhail was looking to rebuild a losing club and this trade went a long way to doing that. It was a huge reason the Orioles resumed winning in 2012.

Howard’s impact on the Orioles has been vast since he joined the club in the winter of 1988. And his biggest impact was most certainly in being the scout to get Bedard.

“Erik’s story is one that I do take a great degree of pride in,” Howard said in a recent phone interview. “It was a perfect example of the value of an area scout. I had seen Erik in his little town in Ontario, Canada. He went to a junior college that, when I first started in his territory, didn’t even have a baseball program. Just from doing the job as an area guy, like a lot of guys do for us every day, I saw him progress.

“I attended a fall scout day for this up-and-coming junior college program. As a freshman, he was a stylish lefty that threw 77 miles per hour. He was nowhere near a prospect. Fast forward to the following fall - he was a little bigger and stronger and the velocity was 82-84 (mph). Still short of what we are looking for, but it was easy and stylish and he had command. Some things were intriguing at that time. I was curious where he was going developmentally. He was on the upswing.

“So in the spring of ‘99, early on, he was throwing 87 to 88 (mph) and all the other positive aspects had kind of blossomed out a little bit. He was a guy that I liked the progression and when I got the chance to talk to him, there was a sense that he was more willing to sign and try pro ball than he was to go to a four-year college.”

Other O’s scouts had little background to that point with Bedard, but Howard was able to convince his bosses that the young lefty would be worth drafting. The Orioles selected him in round six in 1999 out of Norwalk (Conn.) Community College.

“I think only one other of our scouts saw him the draft year where we took him. That was our East Coast crosschecker, Sean Pender. But Tony DeMacio, our scouting director, was willing to take this lefty from a JuCo that no one ever heard of from Connecticut based on my evaluation and the support I had from Sean Pender. Well, you look at the end result and it is something I’m very proud of.”

Bedard went 40-34 with an ERA of 3.83 in five seasons as an Oriole. He finished fifth for the 2007 AL Cy Young Award. He accumulated a 12.9 WAR with the Orioles and just 4.4 in seven seasons after the trade.

Howard’s recollections of the discussions leading up to the Bedard trade are still strong.

“I remember it vividly,” he said. “I believe it was at Andy MacPhail’s first organizational meetings, and I was a pro scout by then, and Andy kept the pro staff together for an extra day. He put all the names of our players on a board and at the top he put what our payroll was. He said, ‘Who are the players that have value?’

“We came to the conclusion that Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada were the two guys that could jump start what Andy thought we needed to do at the time. When that discussion came out, I was in an interesting spot, having been the scout that signed Erik. But now I am part of the discussion that is going hopefully to lead to him being sent elsewhere to get back X-amount talent to outweigh what we were giving up at the time. It sure worked out well for the franchise.”

It sure did.

O’s single season strikeout leaders:
221 - Erik Bedard, 2007
218 - Mike Mussina, 1997
210 - Mike Mussina, 2000
204 - Mike Mussina, 1996
202 - Dave McNally, 1968

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